Assurance of Salvation

Last night while skimming through Against the Churches: The Trinity Review, 1989-1998, I had occasion to reread an April ‘94 Trinity Review that featured a selection from Horatius Bonar’s (1808-1889) book, The Everlasting Righteousness,* entitled “Assurance of Salvation.”  I enjoyed reading it so much I decided to reprint it here below.  What struck me is Bonar’s insistence that assurance of salvation does not and cannot rest on anything found in us.  According to Bonar a Christian’s assurance is not result of good works, our progress in sanctification, any imagined feeling of God’s favor, private revelation, our faithfulness to some imagined “demands of the covenant,” our obedience to ecclesiastical authorities,  or even faith in our own belief.   That’s because as Bonar argues echoing Luther; “All the works of men, even the most sanctified, are sin.”  Assurance for the Christian can only be found in the objective truths of the Gospel and in the doctrine, as opposed to the fruits of, election.  While Bonar takes aim at the Roman Catholic church stating, “If assurance be the right of every man who believes, then the priest’s occupation is at an end; his craft is not only in danger, but gone,” he also takes aim at ersatz-Protestants who likewise have abandoned the biblical doctrine of assurance.  While he focuses on the Arminian the same can be said of the false Christians and teachers of the Federal Vision now disturbing Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Bonar concludes:

To an Arminian, who denies election and the perseverance of the saints, the knowledge of our present reconciliation to God might bring with it no assurance of final salvation; for, according to him, we may be in reconciliation today, and out of it tomorrow; but to a Calvinist there can be no such separation. He who is once reconciled is reconciled forever; and the knowledge of filial relationship just now is the assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, apart from God’s electing love, there can be no such thing as assurance. It becomes an impossibility. Assurance does not save us; and they have erred who have spoken of assurance as indispensable to salvation. For we are not saved by believing in our own salvation, nor by believing anything whatsoever about ourselves. We are saved by what we believe about the Son of God and his righteousness. The Gospel believed saves; not the believing in our own faith.

*Bonar’s Everlasting Rightousness is now included in the volume Not What My Hands Have Done  which also includes Justification by Faith Alone by Charles Hodge.
______________________________________________________________________________

Assurance of Salvation

Horatius Bonar

Editor’s Note: This essay is taken from Chapter 9 of Horatius Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness, originally published in 1874. The Trinity Foundation is now publishing a revised edition of the book.

“Christ for us,” the obedient in the place of the disobedient, is the first part of our message. His assumption of the legal claims, which otherwise would have been made good against us, is the security for our deliverance. That deliverance becomes an actual thing to us immediately upon our consenting to allow him to undertake our case.

”Christ in us” is the second part of our Gospel. This second is of mighty moment, and yet is not to be confounded with the first. That which is done for us is not the same as that which is done in us. By the former we are constituted righteous, by the latter we are made holy. The one is properly the Gospel, in the belief of which we are saved; the other, the carrying out of that Gospel in the soul. Christ “for us” is our justification. “Christ in us, and we in Christ,” is our holiness. The former is the external substitution; the latter, the internal energy or operation, taking its rise from the former, yet not to be confounded with it, or substituted for it. Christ the substitute, giving his life for ours upon the cross, is specially the object of faith. The message concerning this sacrificial work is the Gospel, the belief which brings pardon to the guilty. God has given us this Gospel not merely for the purpose of securing to us life hereafter, but of making us sure of this life even now. It is a true and sure Gospel; so that he who believes it is made sure of being saved. If it could not make us sure, it would make us miserable; for to be told of such a salvation and such a glory, yet kept in doubt as to whether they are to be ours or not, must render us truly wretched. What a poor Gospel it must be, which leaves the man who believes it still in doubt as to whether he is a child of God, an unpardoned or a pardoned sinner! Till we have found forgiveness, we cannot be happy; we cannot serve God gladly or lovingly; but must be in sore bondage and gloom. This is the view of the matter which Scripture sets before us; telling us that salvation is a free, a sure, and a present gift. “He that believes is justified” (Acts 13:39). “He that believes has everlasting life” (John 3:36). The Bible gives no quarter to unbelief or doubting. It does not call it humility. It does not teach us to think better of ourselves for doubting. It does not countenance uncertainty or darkness.

The Reformation

This was the view taken of the subject by our fathers, from the Reformation downwards. They held that a man ought to know that he is justified; and that it was Popery to teach uncertainty, or to set aside the full assurance of faith, or to hold that this sureness was not to be had from the beginning of a man’s conversion, but only to be gathered up in process of years, by summing up his good feelings and good deeds, and concluding from his own excellences that he must be one of the elect, a man in favor with God. Our fathers believed that the jailor at Philippi rejoiced as soon as he received the good news which Paul preached to him (Acts 16:34). Our fathers believed that, “being justified by faith, we HAVE peace with God” (Romans 5:1), and that the life of a believing man is a life of known pardon; a life of peace with God; a life of which the outset was the settlement of the great question between himself and God; a life in which, as being a walk with God, the settlement of that question did not admit of being deferred or kept doubtful: for without felt agreement, without conscious reconciliation, intercourse was impossible. All the Reformation creeds and confessions take this for granted; assuming that the doctrine of uncertainty was one of the worst lies of Popery, the device and stronghold of a money-loving priesthood, who wished to keep people in suspense in order to make room for the dealings of priests and payments for pardon. If assurance be the right of every man who believes, then the priest’s occupation is at an end; his craft is not only in danger, but gone. It was the want of assurance in his poor victims that enabled him to drive so prosperous a trade, and to coin money out of people’s doubts. It was by this craft he had his wealth, and hence the hatred with which Rome and her priests have always hated the doctrine of assurance. It took the bread out of their mouths. If God pardons so freely, so simply, so surely, so immediately upon believing, alas for the priesthood! Who will pay them for absolution? Who will go to them to make sure that which God has already made sure in a more excellent way than theirs?

Roman Catholicism

Romanists have always maintained that assurance is presumption; and it is remarkable that they quote, in defense of their opinion, the same passages which many modern Protestants do, such as, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” the apostle’s expression about being “a castaway;” “Let him that thinks he stands;” and the like. One of them, in reasoning with one of the English Reformers, speaks of “the presumptuous opinion of the certainty of grace and salvation, contrary to that which St. Paul counselleth, Philippians 2:12;” and the great Romish controversialists give the following reasons against assurance, which we abridge and translate:

  1. No man certainly ought to disbelieve God’s mercy and Christ’s merits; but on account of his own imperfections, he ought to be fearful about his own grace, so that no one can certainly know that he has found favor with God.
  2. It is not expedient that men should have certainty about their own grace; for certainty produces pride, while ignorance of this secret preserves and increases humility.
  3. Assurance is the privilege of only a few favored ones, to whom God has revealed the singular benefit of the pardon of their sins.
  4. The most perfect men, when dying, have been humbled because of this uncertainty; and if some of the holiest men have been uncertain, is it credible that all believers ought to have assurance of their justification?
  5. The best men may fall from faith; therefore there can be no assurance.
  6. The following passages confute the error of assurance: 1 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Romans 11:20; Philippians 2:12.

Such are the Popish arguments against assurance, and the conclusion to which the Council of Trent came was: “If any man shall say that justifying faith is confidence in the mercy of God, who remitteth sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is by such confidence alone that we are justified, let him be accursed.” Old John Foxe, who three hundred years ago wrote the history of the martyrs, remarks concerning the Pope’s church, that it “left the poor consciences of men in perpetual doubt” (vol. 1, p. 78). This is a true saying. But it is true of many who earnestly protest against the Church of Rome. They not only teach doctrines which necessarily lead to doubting, and out of which no poor sinner could extract anything but uncertainty; but they inculcate doubting as a humble and excellent thing; a good preparation, nay, an indispensable qualification, for faith. The duty of doubting is in their theology much more obligatory than that of believing. The propriety and necessity of being uncertain they strongly insist upon; the blessedness of certainty they undervalue; the sinfulness of uncertainty they repudiate; the duty of being sure they deny. This same John Foxe, after showing that a man is saved not by working, but by believing, gives us the following specimen of “the horrible blindness and blasphemy” of the Church of Rome:

That faith wherewith a man firmly believeth and certainly assureth himself, that for Christ’s sake his sins be forgiven him, and that he shall possess eternal life, is not faith, but rashness; not the persuasion of the Holy Ghost, but the presumption of human audacity.

The above extract is from a Popish book of the time, and is a fair specimen of the Romish hatred of the doctrine of assurance. Its language is almost the same as that employed by many Protestants of our day. The Romanists held that a man is to believe in the mercy of God and the merits of Christ, but that this belief brought with it no assurance of justification; though possibly, if the man lived a very holy life, God might before he died reveal his grace to him, and give him assurance; which is precisely what many Protestants hold.

In opposition to this, our forefathers not only maintained that a man is justified by faith, but that he ought to know that he is justified, and that this knowledge of justification is the great root of a holy life. The Romanists did not quarrel with the word assurance; they did not hold it to be impossible: They held that men might get it, nay, that some very holy men had got it. But they affirmed that the only means of reaching the grace of assurance was by a holy life; that with the slow development of a holy life, assurance might develop itself, and that in the course of years, a man by numbering his good deeds, and ascertaining the amount of his holiness, might perhaps come to the conclusion that he was a child of God; but perhaps not. They were very strenuous in contending for this life of religious suspense, sad and dismal as it must be; because conscious justification, such as Luther contended for, shut out priesthood and penance; giving a man the joy of true liberty and divine fellowship at once, without the intervention of another party or the delay of an hour. This conscious justification started the man upon a happy life, because relieved from the burden of doubt and the gloom of uncertainty; it made his religion bright and tranquil, because springing so sweetly from the certainty of his reconciliation to God; it delivered him from the cruel suspense and undefined fears which the want of assurance carries always with it; it rescued him from all temptations to self-righteousness, because not arising from any good thing in himself, it preserved him from pride and presumption, because it kept him from trying to magnify his own goodness in order to extract assurance out of it; it drew him away from self to Christ, from what he was doing to what Christ had done; thus making Christ, not self, the basis and the center of his new being; it made him more and more dissatisfied with self, and all that self contained, but more and more satisfied with Jesus and his fulness; it taught him to rest his confidence toward God, not on his satisfaction with self, not on the development of his own holiness, not on the amount of his graces and prayers and doings, but simply on the complete work of him in whom God is well pleased.

The Romanists acquiesced in the general formula of the Protestants, that salvation was all of Christ, and that we are to believe on him in order to get it. But they resisted the idea that a man, on believing, knows that he is saved. They might even have admitted the terms “justification by faith,” provided it was conceded that this justification was to be known only to God, hidden from the sinner who believes. They did not much heed the mere form of words, and some of them went apparently a long way to the Protestant doctrine. But that which was essential to their system was, that in whatever way justification took place, it should be kept secret from the sinner himself, so that he should remain without assurance for years, perhaps all his life. Unconscious justification by faith suited their system of darkness quite as well as justification by works. For it was not merely the kind of justification that they hated, but the sinner’s knowing it, and having peace with God simply in believing, without waiting for years of doing. No doubt they objected to free justification in the Protestant sense; but the force of their objection lies not so much against its being free, as against the sinner being sure of it. For they saw well enough that if they could only introduce uncertainty at any part of the process, their end was gained. For to remove such uncertainty the Church must be called in; and this was all they wanted.

The doctrine, then, that makes uncertainty necessary, and that affirms that this uncertainty can only be removed by the development of a holy life, is the old Popish one, though uttered by Protestants. Luther condemned it; Bellarmine maintained it. And many of the modern objections to assurance, on the part of some Protestants, are a mere reproduction of old Romish arguments, urged again and again, against justification by faith. There is hardly one objection made to a man’s being sure of his justification which would not apply, and which have not been applied, against his bring justified by faith at all. If the common arguments against assurance turn out valid, they cannot stop short of establishing justification by works. Salvation by believing, and assurance only by means of working, are not very compatible. The interval, which is thus created between God’s act of justifying us, and his letting us know that he has justified us, is a singular one, of which Scripture certainly takes no cognizance. This interval of suspense (be it longer or shorter) which Romanists have created for the purpose of giving full scope to priestly interposition, and which some Protestants keep up in order to save us from pride and presumption, is not acknowledged in the Bible any more than purgatory. An intermediate state in the life to come, during which the soul is neither pardoned nor unpardoned, neither in Heaven nor Hell, is thought needful by Romanists for purging out sin and developing holiness; but then this interval of gloom is one of man’s creation. An intermediate state in this life, during which a sinner, though believing in Jesus, is not to know whether he is justified or not, is reckoned equally needful by some Protestants, as a necessary means of producing holiness, and through holiness leading perhaps ere life close to assurance; but then of this sorrowful interval, this present purgatory, which would make a Christian’s life so dreary and fearful, the Scripture says nothing. It is a human delusion borrowed from Popery, and based upon the dislike of the human heart to have immediate peace, immediate adoption, and immediate fellowship. The self-righteous heart of man craves an interval of the above kind as a space for the exercise of his religiousness, while free from the responsibility for a holy and unworldly life which conscious justification imposes on the conscience.

But it will be greatly worth our while to see what Romanists have said upon this subject; for their errors help us much in understanding the truth. It will be seen that it was against present peace with God that Rome contended; and that it was in defense of this present peace, this immediate certainty, that the Reformers did battle so strenuously, as a matter of life and death. The great Popish Assembly, the “Council of Trent” in 1547, took up these points concerning faith and grace. Nor was that body content with condemning assurance; they proclaimed it an accursed thing, and pronounced an anathema against every one who affirmed that justifying faith is “confidence in the mercy of God.” They denounced the man as a heretic who should hold “the confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins.” Yet they had a theory of a justification by faith. We give it in their own words, as it corresponds strikingly with the process which is prescribed by some Protestants as the means of arriving, after long years, at the knowledge of our justification:

The beginning of justification proceedeth from preventing grace. The manner of the preparation is, first to believe the divine revelations and promises, and knowing oneself to be a sinner, to turn from the fear of God’s justice to his mercy, to hope for pardon from him, and therefore to begin to love him and hate sin, to begin a new life, and keep the commandments of God. Justification follows this preparation.

This theory of a gradual justification, or a gradual approach to justification, is that held by many Protestants, and made use of by them for resisting the truth of immediate forgiveness of sin and peace with God.

Then comes another sentence of the Council, which expresses truly the modem theory of non-assurance, and the common excuse for doubting, when men say, “We are not doubting Christ, we are only doubting ourselves.” The Romish divines assert:

No one ought to doubt the mercy of God, the merits of Christ, and the efficacy of the sacraments; but in regard to his own indisposition he may doubt, because he cannot know by certainly of infallible faith, that he has obtained grace.

Here sinners are taught to believe in God’s mercy and in Christ’s merits, yet still to go on doubting as to the results of that belief, namely, sure peace with God. Truly self-righteousness, whether resting on works or on feelings, whether in Popery or Protestantism, is the same thing, and the root of the same errors, and the source of the same determination not to allow immediate certainty to the sinner from the belief of the good news. This Popish council took special care that the doctrine of assurance should be served with their most pointed curses. All the “errors of Martin” were by them traced back to this twofold root, that a man is justified by faith, and that he ought to know that he is justified. They thus accuse the German Reformer of inventing his doctrine of immediate and conscious justification for the purpose of destroying the sinner’s works of repentance, which by their necessary imperfection make room for indulgences. They call this free justification, a thing unheard of before – a thing which not only makes good works unnecessary, but sets a man free from any obligation to obey the law of God. It would appear that the learned doctors of the Council were bewildered with the Lutheran doctrine. The schoolmen had never discussed it, nor even stated it. It had no place either among the beliefs or misbeliefs of the past. It had not been maintained as a truth, nor impugned as a heresy, so far as they knew. It was an absolute novelty. They did not comprehend it, and of course misrepresented it. As to original sin, that had been so often discussed by the schoolmen, that all Romish divines and priests were familiar with it in one aspect or another. On it, therefore, the Council were at home, and could frame their curses easily, and with some point. But the Lutheran doctrine of justification brought them to a stand. Thus the old translator of Paul Sarpi’s History puts it:

The opinion of Luther concerning justifying faith, that it is a confidence and certain persuasion of the promise of God, with the consequences that follow, of the distinction between the law and the gospel, etc., had never been thought of by any school writers, and therefore never confuted or discussed, so that the divines had work enough to understand the meaning of the Lutheran propositions.

Luther’s doctrine of the will’s bondage they were indignant at, as making man a stone or a machine. His doctrine of righteousness by faith horrified them, as the inlet of all laxity and wickedness. Protestant doctrines were to them absurdities no less than heresies. Nor was it merely the Church, the Fathers, and tradition that they stood upon. The schools and the schoolmen! This was their watchword; for hitherto these scholastic doctors had been, at least for centuries, the body-guard of the church. Under their learning and subtleties and casuistries, priests and bishops had always taken refuge. Indeed, without them, the Roman Church was helpless, as far as logic was concerned. When she had to argue, she must call in these metaphysical divines; though generally by force and terror she contrived to supersede all necessity for reasoning. Three men in the Council showed some independence: a Dominican friar, by name Ambrosius Catarinus; a Spanish Franciscan, by name Andreas de Vega; and a Carmelite, by name Antoninus Marinarus. The “Heremites” of the order to which Luther originally belonged were especially blind and bitter, their leader Seripandus outdoing all in zeal against Luther and his heresy.

Paul and Luther

Compelled, in the investigation of the subject, to pass beyond Luther to Luther’s Master, they were sorely puzzled. To overlook him was impossible, for the Protestants appealed to him; to condemn him would not have been wise. They were obliged to admit the bitter truth that Paul had said that a man is justified by faith. They had maintained the strict literality of “This is my body;” must they admit the equal literality of “justified by faith”? Or may this latter expression not be qualified and overlaid by scholastic ingenuity, or set aside by an authoritative denial in the name of the Church? At the Council of Trent both these methods were tried. It was not Luther only who laid such stress upon the doctrine of free justification. His adversaries were wise enough to do the sime. They saw in it the root or foundation-stone of the whole Reformation. If it falls, Popery stands erect, and may do what she pleases with the consciences of men. If it stands, Popery is overthrown; her hold on men’s consciences is gone; her priestly power is at an end, and men have directly to do with the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven, and not with any pretended vicar upon Earth, or any of his priests or seven sacraments. “All the errors of Martin are resolved into that point,” said the bishops of the Council; and they added, “He that will establish the [Roman] Catholic doctrine must overthrow the heresy of righteousness by faith only.”

But did not Paul say the same thing as Luther has said? Did he not say, “To him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”? (Romans 4:20). Yes; but we may use some liberties with Paul’s words, which we cannot do with Luther’s. It would not do to refute Paul; but it is quite safe to demonstrate that Luther is wrong, and is at variance with the [Roman] Church. Let us then assail Luther, and leave Paul alone. Now Luther has said such things as the following:

l. Faith without works is sufficient for salvation, and alone justifies.

2. Justifying faith is a sure trust, by which one believes that his sins are remitted for Christ’s sake; and they that are justified are to believe certainly that their sins are remitted.

3. By faith only we are able to appear before God, who neither regards nor has need of our works; faith only purifying us.

4. No previous disposition is necessary to justification; neither does faith justify because it disposes us, but because it is a means or instrument by which the promise and grace of God are laid hold on and received.

5. All the works of men, even the most sanctified, are sin.

6. Though the just ought to believe that his works are sins, yet he ought to be assured that they are not imputed.

7. Our righteousness is nothing but the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; and the just have need of a continual justification and imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

8. All the justified are received into equal grace and glory; and all Christians are equally great with the Mother of God, and as much saints as she.

These were some of Luther’s propositions which required to be confuted. That they looked wonderfully like the doctrines of the Apostle Paul only made the confutation more necessary.

That “faith justifies,” the bishops said, we must admit, because the apostle has said so; but as to what faith is, and how it justifies, is hard to say. Faith has many meanings (some said nine, others fifteen; some modern Protestants have said the same); and then, even admitting that faith justifies, it cannot do so without good dispositions, without penance, without religious performances, without sacraments. By introducing all these ingredients into faith, they easily turned it into a work; or by placing them on the same level with faith, they nullified (without positively denying) justification by faith. Ingenious men! Thus to overthrow the truth, while professing to admit and explain it!

In this ingenious perversity, they have had many successors, and that in churches which rejected Rome and its Council. “Christ crucified” is the burden of the message which God has sent to man. “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.” The reception of this Gospel is eternal life; and non-reception or rejection of it is everlasting death. “This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” The belief of the Gospel saves; the belief of the promise annexed to that Gospel makes us sure of this salvation personally. It is not the belief of our belief that assures us of pardon, and gives us a good conscience towards God; but our belief of what God has promised to every one who believes his Gospel – that is eternal life. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

What is God to me? That is the first question that rises up to an inquiring soul. And the second is like unto it – What am I to God? On these two questions hangs all religion, as well as all joy and life to the immortal spirit. If God is for me, and I am for God, all is well. If God is not for me, and if I am not for God, all is ill (Romans 8:31). If he takes my side, and if I take his, there is nothing to fear, either in this world or in that which is to come. If he is not on my side, and if I am not on his, then what can I do but fear? Terror in such a case must be as natural and inevitable as in a burning house or a sinking vessel. Or, if I do not know whether God is for me or not, I can have no rest. In a matter such as this, my soul seeks certainty, not uncertainty. I must know that God is for me, else I must remain in the sadness of unrest and terror. Insofar as my actual safety is concerned, everything depends on God being for me; and insofar as my present peace is concerned, everything depends on my knowing that God is for me. Nothing can calm the tempest of my soul, save the knowledge that I am his, and that he is mine.

Thus the questions about assurance resolve themselves into that of the knowledge of our relationship to God. To an Arminian, who denies election and the perseverance ot the saints, the knowledge of our present reconciliation to God might bring with it no assurance of final salvation; for, according to him, we may be in reconciliation today, and out of it tomorrow; but to a Calvinist there can be no such separation. He who is once reconciled is reconciled forever; and the knowledge of filial relationship just now is the assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, apart from God’s electing love, there can be no such thing as assurance. It becomes an impossibility. Assurance does not save us; and they have erred who have spoken of assurance as indispensable to salvation. For we are not saved by believing in our own salvation, nor by believing anything whatsoever about ourselves. We are saved by what we believe about the Son of God and his righteousness. The Gospel believed saves; not the believing in our own faith.

April 1994

Copyright © 1998-2011 The Trinity Foundation
Post Office 68, Unicoi, Tennessee 37692
Phone: 423.743.0199 Fax: 423.743.2005

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Theology

20 Comments on “Assurance of Salvation”

  1. hughmc5 Says:

    A fantastic book. Thank you for posting all this good stuff, Sean.

    When @ seminary, I was so impressed, I talked Dr Robbins into selling me a case of TER very cheaply, and was able to distribute to students and faculty alike.

    I hope your readers will buy and digest The Everlasting Righteousness. It may be my 2nd favorite after Scripture.

  2. Steve M Says:

    “That “faith justifies,” the bishops said, we must admit, because the apostle has said so; but as to what faith is, and how it justifies, is hard to say. Faith has many meanings (some said nine, others fifteen; some modern Protestants have said the same); and then, even admitting that faith justifies, it cannot do so without good dispositions, without penance, without religious performances, without sacraments. By introducing all these ingredients into faith, they easily turned it into a work; or by placing them on the same level with faith, they nullified (without positively denying) justification by faith. Ingenious men! Thus to overthrow the truth, while professing to admit and explain it!”

    This was written a long time ago, but it might as well have been written yesterday. The main difference I see between Roman Catholics and some modern Protestants is that the RCs are more inclined to admit they believe in justification by faith and works, while the Protestants deny they believe that, but introduce works as an ingredient in their definition of “faith” which renders justification by faith alone no different from justification by faith and works.

    Gordon Clark’s definition of saving faith I understand, but practically everyone else who presents a definition, presents one that is either unintelligible or contains works as a ingredient (not necessarily in a straight-forward fashion). .

  3. Maxim Koshansky Says:

    Check out this assurance verse: (1 Peter 1:17-19)

    “And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: KNOWING that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot…”

    Did you catch that? That’s assurance of redemption.

    But is Peter speaking of the elect’s knowledge of their redemption or of his own knowledge of their redemption like Paul does in 1 Thessalonians 1:4?

    Since Peter is describing and addressing the elect since verse 4, it would make no sense for him to mention his own knowledge of their redemption at that point – it just won’t fit the surrounding thoughts. Therefore he must be talking of the elect’s knowledge of their redemption in verse 18. The KJV even translates “Forasmuch as YE KNOW…”

    Anyway, yeah, Bonar seems pretty good; maybe I’ll get his book.

  4. David Reece Says:

    By the mercy of God, this article helped to drag me out of a deep depression caused by a lack of assurance because of some bad doctrine and a tyrannical church. The aprox. 3 and 1/2 years since then have been the happiest and most productive years of my life thus far because of the enduring strength of the gratitude that proceeds from true assurance of salvation.

    I have loved and reread this very text for these few years, and I look to any church that teaches assurance by sanctification or works as being either a kindred society of, or a stone’s throw away from, Rome as a result of the arguments here presented by Bonar.

    Bonar’s polemic is beautiful, “The Romanists acquiesced in the general formula of the Protestants, that salvation was all of Christ, and that we are to believe on him in order to get it. But they resisted the idea that a man, on believing, knows that he is saved. They might even have admitted the terms ‘justification by faith,’ provided it was conceded that this justification was to be known only to God, hidden from the sinner who believes. They did not much heed the mere form of words, and some of them went apparently a long way to the Protestant doctrine. But that which was essential to their system was, that in whatever way justification took place, it should be kept secret from the sinner himself, so that he should remain without assurance for years, perhaps all his life. Unconscious justification by faith suited their system of darkness quite as well as justification by works. For it was not merely the kind of justification that they hated, but the sinner’s knowing it, and having peace with God simply in believing, without waiting for years of doing. No doubt they objected to free justification in the Protestant sense; but the force of their objection lies not so much against its being free, as against the sinner being sure of it. For they saw well enough that if they could only introduce uncertainty at any part of the process, their end was gained. For to remove such uncertainty the Church must be called in; and this was all they wanted.”

    I love “Everlasting Righteousness”, both the book and the real thing given to us by Christ as an external covering.

    Thank you Sean. I think you have given a good example in your search for joy in the midst of your trials. My love and prayers are with you and yours through I am acquainted with you by text and picture alone. If I do not get to know you better in this life, then I am certain I will have the chance in eternity. In any case, thank you again for this post.

    Bonar said, “The belief of the Gospel saves; the belief of the promise annexed to that Gospel makes us sure of this salvation personally. It is not the belief of our belief that assures us of pardon, and gives us a good conscience towards God; but our belief of what God has promised to every one who believes his Gospel – that is eternal life. ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

    As certain as one is of the truth of the message of the Bible, one may be certain of his own salvation. The Bible Alone is the Word of God.

  5. Steve M Says:

    David Reece:
    “I look to any church that teaches assurance by sanctification or works as being either a kindred society of, or a stone’s throw away from, Rome as a result of the arguments here presented by Bonar.”

    Amen! It is, by no means, a small number of churches you are describing here. I think it is the majority view in modern “Protestant” churches.

  6. Denson Dube Says:

    Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
    The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

    Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
    To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

    Peace, perfect peace, with sorrow surging round?
    In Jesus’s presence nought but calm is found.

    Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
    In Jesus’s keeping we are safe, and they.

    Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
    Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.

    Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
    Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers

    It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
    and Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.

  7. hughmc5 Says:

    Yeah, Max!

    1 Peter 1:17ff ~ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you WERE ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers,

    {HOW?} not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

    He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him ARE believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope ARE in God.

    Having PURIFIED your souls by your obedience to the truth {i.e., faith alone!} for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you HAVE BEEN born again,

    {HOW?} not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…{ESV}

    And from 1:3ff ~ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, HE HAS CAUSED US TO BE born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, TO an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, KEPT in heaven for you, who BY God’s power ARE BEING guarded through faith for a salvation READY to be revealed in the last time.

    He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. {1 Thes 5:24}

    The saved are just that: Saved.

    Get the book, Max! It’s terrific.


  8. Mr. Gerety,

    I have read your blog for some time now and I do enjoy it. I have never entered a comment. I do not know you and you do not know me, but I have also read all of the Trinity Reviews articles over the years and certainly have been helped. I am 63 years old. I miss Dr. Robbins.

    This subject of assurance is interesting. Would you please look at Gordon Clark’s little commentary on II Peter pages 18 and 19 on chapter 1. I have the 1972 copyright paperback.

    What is your opinion about brother Clark here in his comments and the article by Bonar on assurance? Seems they might differ – or am I not understanding brother Clark.

    You do not have to post my comments – I am not trying to start anything – I honestly would like your opinion. I have taught from this passage a number of times and Dr. Clark has helped me here. I now after reading Mr Bonar’s article wonder if I have taught incorrectly.

    Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Bruce Jeffers

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Bruce, can you tell me which verse specifically you’re referring to? I have the second edition where 1 & 2 Peter were combined. But it is always possible that Clark and Bonar disagree at some point or other.


  10. Mr Gerety: here is the quote itself:

    Page 18 second paragraph

    The text itself, 1:10, makes no reference to the Jewish
    nation or any other general group. Peter is speaking
    to individuals to whom Christ has sovereignly allotted
    faith. They are the individuals whom Peter exhorts to
    self-control and godliness, to whom the promises have
    been made. Such a calling and election is radically individual.
    And this is the election Peter exhorts us to
    make certain for ourselves.

    To make my divinely decreed election certain to or for
    myself is simply a matter of assurance. Simply, not because
    the doctrine of assurance is guaranteed to be devoid
    of problems; but because it does not face the impossible
    problem of making God’s decree more certain than God
    could make it. The text deals with assurance. Kierkegaard,
    who should never be trusted has a good point, though even
    in this case he exaggerates, when he says we must in
    humility always be certain of others’ salvation and always
    doubtful of our own. The idea of becoming assured
    of one’s own salvation is perfectly Scriptural, and part
    of the method is self-examination. Therefore one commentator’s
    view that we cannot make our own election
    sure, on the ground that only God can grant assurance,
    is without foundation; for though it is God who gives
    us certainty, he does this through several means. The
    same commentator’s suggestion that Peter refers here

    Beginning of page 19

    to our making our election certain to others by our good
    works is altogether implausible. The idea of assuring
    others cannot be found in the text. The middle voice
    means oneself. The second half of 1:10 clearly indicates
    the individualism of the argument. Furthermore,
    since God alone can see and judge the heart, another person,
    an observer, can never be made certain by my good
    works. These are observable because external; my internal
    motives, an indispensable element in my moral standing,
    the observer cannot see.

    The Lord may indeed grant me assurance of my election
    by means of my good works. Nor does this infringe
    on God’s sovereignty or grace. Paul also admonishes us
    to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for it
    is God who works in us not only to cause us to do good
    works, but even earlier to cause us to will to do them; and
    it is all of God’s sovereign pleasure.

    A moment ago the second half of 1:10, to which 1:11
    should be added, was mentioned as evidence that Peter
    was not asking us to assure others. The reference is entirely
    to one’s own salvation. It continues, “By so doing
    [making your election sure] you shall never come to grief.”
    The usual translation shall never stumble gives the impression
    that one who has received assurance never sins
    again. All commentators disavow this interpretation. It
    is not a promise of sinlessness in this life: the next verse
    shows that it means assured glorification in the life to
    come.

    “For in this way [the way, not only of 1:10, but of
    1 :5-10] entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord
    and Savior Jesus Christ is richly provided for you.”
    Thus entrance into the kingdom of heaven is the final
    idea of this section, as the Summary, some pages ago, indicated.

    This section has now told us that Christ has granted
    us all things that pertain to life and piety so that we
    might be godly people. We should therefore zealously
    practice all the virtues and so assure ourselves that God
    has elected us into Christ’s eternal kingdom.

  11. hughmc5 Says:

    FWIW: In the 1972 edition of Clark on I & II Peter, _The New Heavens and the New Earth_, the above quote is on pages 182-3.

    I don’t recall, but I’d bet GHC would have said similar stuff in his I John commentary.

    Contested?: “The idea of becoming assured of one’s own salvation is perfectly Scriptural, and part of the method is self-examination.”

    More contentious?: “Therefore one commentator’s view {such as Bonar’s?!} that we cannot make our own election sure, on the ground that only God can grant assurance, is without foundation; for though it is God who gives us certainty, he does this through several means.”

    I recall Sinclair Ferguson saying in terms of assurance, “Your sanctification is sinking sand.”

    Bonar appears to be more echoing the WCF than Clark.

    18:2. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

    18:3. This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto.

    And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

    And the WSC

    Q.36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
    A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

  12. hughmc5 Says:

    On p. 90 of the 1972 combo edition:

    “The doctrine of grace requires the doctrine of election. The whole Bible, and particularly the New Testament, is quite clear that salvation is entirely of grace, based on the all-sufficient merit of Jesus Christ, ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:9). Election looks forward to obedience, ‘elect unto obedience,’ and since obedience is the result and purpose of election, it cannot very well be the cause or ground of it.”

    One might argue in a Bonarian vein that assurance requires the doctrine of election. Assurance is entirely of grace, based on the all-sufficient merit of Jesus Christ.

    Election looks forward to assurance, elect unto assurance (one might say), and since assurance is the result and purpose of election, it cannot very well be the cause or ground of it!


  13. The quote I gave above was from II Peter. A Short Commentary. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1972. Pages 18-19.

  14. hughmc5 Says:

    GHC on assurance from his commentary combo on I & II Peter:

    P.72 ~ “The words of Scripture therefore are the very words of God. No wonder Peter says they live and abide forever. No wonder believers find in them truth, blessing, and assurance of eternal salvation.”

    P.78 ~ “…the phrase in I Peter 2:3 [if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good] is an expression of the assurance of salvation. Confidence, not doubt, is the idea.”

    P.91 ~ “The applicaiton of salvation to an individual is the result, not of human, but of divine choice. It is not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God. And likewise assurance of salvation, that he who began a good work in me will complete it, depends on the immutable decree of God. What more comforting doctrine could Peter find as the refrain of his epistle?”

    P.155 ~ “There may be many reasons for finding comfort in our adversities, but they are all based ultimately on God’s electing grace. The docrine of election is the doctrine of comfort and hope.” And, “The message [of I Peter] is one of assurance: Peter’s readers stand in God’s true grace.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    An analysis of assurance in Clark’s book on evangelism: http://www.myspace.com/geneva_dutch_calvinist/blog/529227812
    And on his book Sanctification: http://andrew-c-bain.xanga.com/452299106/item/

  15. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Bruce, per Hugh’s many quotes, I don’t thin Clark and Bonar are that far apart and are basically in agreement. Clark does say: “The Lord may indeed grant me assurance of my election by means of my good works.” I don’t know that Bonar would disagree, but the key word there is “may.” Clark also prefaces his remarks by saying the doctrine of assurance is not “devoid of problems.” Consequently, I don’t know that I would put too fine a point on what he says in his commentary. Clearly, and again per Hugh, that wasn’t the only things he had to say about assurance even in that little book.

  16. Sean Gerety Says:

    I don’t know why anyone would quote much less link anything by Andrew Bain who was Marc Carpenter’s one disciple until he proved that he too was “lost.” LOL

    Make sure it doesn’t happen again Hugh. 😉

  17. hughmc5 Says:

    I know, I know, the bane of the Internet!

    But he had the nifty quote of GHC (‘though Andy says GHC was unregenerate, and the site is bizarrely formatted!).

    I will refrain from such Bainalities in the future!


  18. Thank you, I appreciate your comments.


  19. […] Assurance of Salvation (godshammer.wordpress.com) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: